Literature of the English Revolution
Literature of the English Revolution
The English Revolution, also known as the Puritan Revolution and the English Civil War, officially began in 1642 with the onset of military action between King Charles I and his supporters, and the forces rallied by the Puritan Parliament. Yet the political upheaval and religious schisms which contributed to the revolution were underway long before 1642. The causes of the English Revolution are hotly debated among historians, but some agree that a combination of the struggle for power between parliament and the crown and the religious divisions between Anglicans and Puritans were the most potent forces behind the developing crisis. Political and religious pamphlets were produced in abundance during the mid-1600s. Religious sermons, often highly political in nature, were also preached and sometimes printed during this time, and, like the practice of pamphleteering, attempted to sway public opinion. Additionally, much of the poetry of this time period was focussed on the topical religious issues, issues which many maintain fueled the fire of the Revolution.
Critics such as Nicholas Tyacke (1973) stress that the revolution of the mid-1640s was already brewing in the 1620s. Tyacke notes that the Calvinism and Puritanism of England was threatened by the rise of Arminianism, the belief in God's universal grace, and in the free will of all men to obtain salvation. Calvinists and Puritans believed that salvation was predestined, that men were divided into the classes of the Elect and the Reprobate. As the House of Commons gained power in the 1640s, it wore an increasingly Puritan face, whereas King Charles I surrounded himself with Anglicans and Arminians. Stuart E. Prall (1968) also surveys the troubles of the early 1600s, demonstrating how James I, Charles's father, had failed to understand the role and power of Parliament, and had championed the cause of royal sovereignty. Prall notes that with the ascension of Charles came an increasing reliance of the crown on the Bishop of London, and therefore an increase in both political and religious tensions. These tensions exploded with armed conflict in 1642, continued for several years with the Puritans being lead by Oliver Cromwell, and lasted until the execution of Charles I in 1649. The Puritan Parliament then abolished monarchy, the House of Lords, and the Anglican Church and declared England a Commonwealth. England was ruled by Cromwell as Lord Protector until his death in 1658, after which his son Richard attempted to fill Cromwell's role. Richard was unable to do so, and following the dissolution of the Puritan Parliament in 1660, a newly elected Parliament restored the monarchy and offered the crown to Charles I's exiled son, Charles II. Thus began the Restoration.
The religious and political issues which fueled the Revolution also inspired the writers of pamphlets. William Haller (1934) describes the pamphlets of revolutionary England as being inspired by the concept of liberty, and argues that the doctrine of liberty was developed during these years and on the pages of pamphlets. Haller argues that liberty was first understood in religious terms, as men of this time conceived of organized society as a religious body with which the state was closely involved. While not the first to extoll the virtues and need for liberty, John Milton, Haller notes, wrote, in addition to his many pamphlets, the finest expression of this aspiration for liberty with his Areopagitica (1644). Some pamphlet writers supported Parliament and attacked the crown, others defended the various religious sects or asked for religious tolerance, and some even abused Parliament. While Haller stresses the importance of liberty to the pamphleteers and to the Revolution, William Lamont (1986) maintains that liberty was not the concern, not the cause or the inspiration of the Revolution. Lamont discusses several crises of the English Revolution, in which revolutionaries were not concerned with liberty, but rather with the role of bishops within the government. Most advocated stricter godly control, argues Lamont, not freedom. One of the most popular pamphleteers was William Prynne, who Lamont describes as Parliament's official apologist. In addition to Prynne's parliamentary favor, Lamont states that Prynne wrote pamphlets that were widely read among English citizens, and which demonstrate the religious consensus advocating control, not freedom. Lamont concludes that the goal of liberty may have been an unintended consequence of the activities of revolutionary Puritans, but that freedom was not their rallying cry.
It was not unheard of for pamphleteers to be arrested for their writing against the crown, or against the bishops. William Prynne was arrested in 1637 for just such an attack, notes D. H. Pennington (1970). Godfrey Davies (1939) argues that such censure was the reason for the use of the pulpit to convey political messages. In examining both ways in which political sermons influenced public opinion, as well as the crown's effort to control such preaching, Davies notes that one preacher, Henry Burton, whose sermon attacked the bishops, was punished alongside William Prynne in 1637.
Like most English people during the early and mid-1600s, including pamphleteers, preachers, and politicians, poets of this time focused heavily on religious themes. Douglas Bush (1945) surveys some of the poetry of the mid-1600s, and demonstrates the influence of the religious beliefs of poets such as George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, and Henry Vaughn, on their work. Bush notes, for example, the influence of the Bible on Herbert's poetry, and the fact that although Crashaw's father was a Puritan clergyman, he himself rebuffed Puritanism and focuses on Catholic themes and imagery in his poetry. William Lamont and Sybil Oldfield (1975) comment on the sheer obsessiveness of the recurrent subject of religion in the poetry of this time. In addition to this obsession, Lamont and Old-field note that many concerns revealed in mid-seventeenth century literature are relevant today. They argue that while the power held by Anglican bishops may no longer be an issue, we still ask ourselves: what is a just society? How is it to be realized? and Can mutually exclusive ideologies possibly be tolerated within one society?
Stuart E. Prall (essay date 1968)
SOURCE: Introduction to The Puritan Revolution: A Documentary History, edited by Stuart E. Prall, Anchor Books, 1968, pp. ix-xxii.
[In the following essay, Prall reviews the explanations proposed by historians regarding the reasons for the English Revolution and argues that a combination of factors (including the struggle for power between the crown and Parliament, the religious schism between Anglicans and Puritans, and the division among the gentry class) contributed to England's Civil War.]
Popular and scholarly interest in the era of the Puritan Revolution has never been wanting, but the past half century has seen this interest lead to an ever greater investigation into the history of English life in all its complexities from the mid-sixteenth century until the Restoration of 1660. The day when England prided itself on achieving democracy by way of evolution, whereas continental peoples were forced to take the revolutionary road, is now passing. The multiplicity of revolutions since 1917 and the mass of literature, both scholarly and journalistic, concerning them has been one factor in helping historians of England to see similar patterns in the later Tudor and early Stuart eras. Another reason for the new interest in the Puritan Revolution has been the falling away of the old spirit of isolation and of the assumptions of England's...
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Pamphlets Of The English Revolution
William Haller (essay date 1934)
SOURCE: Introduction to Tracts on Liberty in the Puritan Revolution 1638-1647, edited by William Haller, Octagon Books, Inc., 1965, pp. 1-8.
[In the following essay, Haller surveys the sources "from which the Puritan doctrine of liberty sprang." He also argues that in revolutionary pamphlets the doctrine of liberty was developed alongside modern English prose.]
The pamphlets of the Puritan Revolution have seemed to later generations like relics of a universe
and yet those "embryon atoms" there engaged in elemental strife were the seeds of the modern world. Controversy in that great crisis revolved in ever-widening circles about religious questions which came to be not solved, so much as dismissed, or, it would be better to say, transformed beyond recognition. To attempt reform of the English Church in the seventeenth century was to attempt the reorganization of society. Dissenting religious minorities, one after another, seized the occasion to demand toleration for themselves, but the argument for toleration supplied ideas, terms and images with which men of any or of no religion might also contend for freedom of thought, of expression, of government and of trade. The religious doctrine of a supernatural law, and of a divine right vested in established institutions, evoked the rational or quasi-rational doctrine of natural...
(The entire section is 11798 words.)
Political Sermons Of The English Revolution
Godfrey Davies (essay date 1939)
SOURCE: "English Political Sermons, 1603-1640," in The Huntington Library Quarterly, No. 1, October, 1939, pp. 1-22.
[In the following essay, Davies examines the role played by English political sermons in forming public opinion about the country's government, and studies the "highly significant attempt by the crown to control pulpit utterances."]
How many sermons were preached throughout the length and breadth of England and Wales during the first forty years of the seventeenth century is utterly unknown, and any estimate must be pure guesswork. Even at the meager allowance of one sermon per parish per year,1 the total would be 360,000 sermons delivered. The number printed and surviving is extremely small in comparison with the number preached. Edith L. Klotz, who made a subject analysis of English imprints for every tenth year from 1480 to 1640,2 tells me that clearly identifiable sermons in the Short-Title Catalogue, for the years 1600, 1610, 1620, 1630, and 1640, number 7, 29, 46, 43, and 34, respectively. Supposing that the average is forty, the total, 1600-1640, would be 1,600; therefore, the scholar who had read all the sermons extant for those years would necessarily have to generalize on very imperfect data. The present writer freely acknowledges that he has not been able to peruse all, or nearly all, the...
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Poetry Of The English Revolution
Douglas Bush (essay date 1945)
SOURCE: "Jonson, Donne, and Their Successors," in English Literature in the Earlier Seventeenth Century, 1600-1660, Clarendon Press, 1945, pp. 104-69.
[In the following excerpt, Bush surveys the work of several metaphysical poets who wrote as the revolutionary crisis in England developed. He notes their religious affiliations and the ways in which those beliefs influenced their poetry.]
… No one turned so completely away from human to divine love as the author of The Temple (1633).1 Herbert may not electrify the nerves and the imagination so often or so startlingly as Donne, but, instead of Donne's fevered preoccupation with death, Herbert has a far more truly religious preoccupation with everyday fulfilment of the divine will here and now. The one thrills the non-religious reader, the other may not, very much. If a prime essential of metaphysical poetry is inner tension, no writer has more than the man whose manuscript was 'a picture of the many spiritual Conflicts that have past betwixt God and my Soul, before I could subject mine to the will of Jesus my Master: in whose service I have now found perfect freedom'. There were in the first place the conflicting claims of God and the great world. By his mother's wish and his own, Herbert had been early dedicated to the Church, but his university career and his experience as Public...
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Condren, Conal. Introduction "An Exposition of Lawson's Politica," part II of George Lawson's Politica and the English Revolution, pp. 33-42. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
Discusses textual concerns related to Politica, a work written in the late 1650s which treats the political and religious issues of the English Revolution and the Interregnum.
Dow, F. D. "Parliamentarians and Republicans." In Radicalism in the English Revolution, 1640-1660, pp. 10-29. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985.
Argues that radical ideas regarding political power were not the cause of the English Revolution, but rather the by-product, and that based on debates in Parliament between 1640 and 1642 it is "clear that Charles I and his critics shared many political assumptions and many social ideals."
Manning, Brian. "Religion and Politics: The Godly People." In Politics, Religion and the English Civil War, edited by Brian Manning, pp. 83-123. Edward Arnold, 1973. Reprinted in Seventeenth-Century England: A Changing Culture, Vol. 2, Modern Studies, edited by W. R. Owens, pp. 146-66. London: Ward Lock Educational in association with Open University Press, 1980.
Examines the complexities of political and religious loyalties, especially the...
(The entire section is 620 words.)